Chennai stormwater drains: 80% core city projects to be completed by October, says GCC Commissioner

“The pain Chennai suffered during the last monsoon will be mitigated to a big extent,” Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi said.

ByShilpa Nair

Published Sep 03, 2022 | 6:48 PM Updated Sep 03, 2022 | 8:07 PM

Gagandeep Singh Bedi

Dug-up roads have become a regular sight in Chennai. For several months now, the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) has been carrying out stormwater drain projects, especially in the flood-prone and vulnerable areas of the city.

After the bitter experience of the floods in November and December last year that caused immense damage to the city, the DMK government, especially Chief Minister MK Stalin, has been keen on taking up flood mitigation efforts in the state capital.

When incessant rains pounded the city in November 2021 — the third-highest rainfall during that period in the city’s history — the GCC, under the leadership of Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi, worked round the clock to drain out the flood water and provide relief to the affected people.

Stalin was also on the ground every day, ensuring that the government machinery did everything possible to help the people.

‘Unscientific planning and execution led to floods’

Apart from the record rainfall, one of the main reasons why the city was flooded last year was because the stormwater drains did not work effectively.

This resulted in water stagnation for days in several parts of the city and the GCC had to deploy over 500 pumps to drain water from the streets.

Following this, the state government appointed retired IAS officer V Thiruppugazh to lead an advisory committee on mitigation and management of flood risk in Chennai.

It is to be noted that Thiruppugazh served in Gujarat in Narendra Modi’s government and was also the additional secretary in the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), .

However, when the city was flooded, Stalin blamed the previous AIADMK government for their “corruption and inaction” which he believed resulted in the waterlogging in Chennai.

Stalin said that a probe panel would be set up to investigate the alleged irregularities in the expenditure on smart city projects as several areas in the city, which came under the Smart Cities Mission, were completely inundated despite the money being spent on flood mitigation efforts.

Accordingly, the government-appointed a one-man committee led by retired IAS officer PWC Davidar to look into the implementation of the smart cities project in Tamil Nadu. He submitted his final report to the government on 20 August.

The stormwater drain project

Following the floods last year, the Stalin government instructed GCC to undertake the stormwater drain project  — lay new structures and improve on the existing ones — to prevent a repeat of what happened in 2021 and 2015.

For this, major parts of Chennai have been dug up, and the work is underway on a war-footing across the city.

Stalin has also been inspecting the progress of the project at regular intervals.

Storm water drain project

A picture of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin inspecting the storm water drain project in Chennai along with GCC Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi and others. (Supplied)

However, the project has been causing a lot of inconvenience to the general public.

With the roads getting dug up, the space for vehicular movement has narrowed, causing traffic snarls.

There have also been complaints of water, power, sewage and internet lines, etc., getting disrupted due to the ongoing project work.

In many places, access to business establishments on the roads has been cut off.

Residents, too, are finding it difficult to move in and out of their homes.

‘Not all digging is done by the GCC’

But not all the digging in the city has been done by the GCC, Gagandeep Singh Bedi told South First in an exclusive interview.

“I will say only about one-fourth of the digging up was for the stormwater drain project. A lot of work related to metro rail, metro water, sewage projects, and electricity boards is also going on. So, I’m not the villain in all the digging up. I’m only a part contributor to this,” he laughed.

“Any city which is developing has to undergo some such unpleasant, temporary issues such as digging up for the overall good,” he added.

Bedi said that they held a number of meetings at the zonal level with officials from the GCC, electricity department, metro, water, and fibre optics, etc., so that if the GCC is digging at a specific place, they can inform the other departments which could, in turn, alert the corporation on where their pipes or lines are laid at that place.

“We have tried to ensure that this sort of disruption of other departmental facilities is minimum. But sometimes, the departmental people, though they know that their cables are running along a particular road, may not be aware of the exact location. Due to this, there are some disruptions. But we are trying to minimise it,” he said.

Project being undertaken in three phases

Elaborating on the stormwater drain project, Bedi, a seasoned bureaucrat, said that it is being carried out in three phases — the core city, North Chennai and South Chennai projects.

Of these, the North and South Chennai projects are long-term projects which would take about two to three years to complete. According to Bedi, work is going on as scheduled.

“The North Chennai one is the Asian Development Bank project which is being undertaken at a cost of ₹3,200 crore. It is going on as per schedule, or rather ahead of schedule. That will get over in 2024,” he said.

“The South Chennai project — the Kovalam project — was recently awarded and it will take about two years to complete. That is also going on okay.”

Focus on core city projects

The GCC is focusing on finishing the core city projects this year. The aim is to finish about 80 percent of the projects — the main roads which used to get inundated — before the onset of the monsoon, around October.

“The remaining 20 percent of the projects, the by-lanes and the other side lanes — we will take them up after the monsoon. We cannot have the entire city getting dug up. Before the monsoon, we want to finish off all the digging up, cover the drains, and wait for the monsoon to get over to take up the side lanes and the by-lanes and the other less important areas, which are also prone to inundation,” Bedi said.

“Work that usually takes 12 months, we are trying to do it in five to six months,” he added.

When asked about what the GCC is doing differently this time, considering the fact that the stormwater drains laid by the previous government failed to work effectively during the monsoon, Bedi said that the size of the drains in most cases is being increased threefold.

“For example, a 2 x 2 feet drain is being changed into 5 x 5 feet drain,” he said.

“The government is very particular about planning for the future. In the core city, the existing drains were all built many years back and catered to the then population and then infrastructure. Now we are increasing the capacity of those drains, especially in areas where the existing drains were not sufficient.”

“Last year, the rainfall was unprecedented. So, using that as a parameter, we are expanding the drain size in order to ensure that the roads are not inundated by such rainfall this time,”

Dr Thiruppugazh’s recommendations 

While opining that the GCC was fortunate to have received recommendations from Dr Thiruppugazh, Bedi said that the former is a very “sharp officer with an acumen for disaster management”.

Dr Thiruppugazh and his team, comprising members from IIT Madras, economists and weather experts, gave recommendations to the GCC on the areas in the city that needed attention. They also recommended the latest technology options available.

According to Bedi, the panel also recommended the government to focus on funding the stormwater drain project by GCC.

“Because of their recommendations, the government has been kind enough to give us the funds we had asked for. We are trying to live up to the expectations of the government and also trying to use the recommendations of the Thiruppugazh committee as much as possible in our implementation exercises,” he said.

Concerns over structural designs of the drains

Bedi told South First that the drains are not constructed just by drawing sketches on paper, but the water levels are taken into consideration by consultants and only then the design are finalised.

Several scientific exercises were undertaken, including the vetting of major drains which were built on a micro-shed basis at IIT Madras, which used computer simulation models to see the draining time for a given amount of rainfall.

“But nothing is perfect. Based on the rainfall this time, we will know how effective it has been. Based on the shortcomings, we will try to improve,” said Bedi.

“The pain which we were having last year, will be mitigated to a big extent. But I will not say that it will be hundred percent foolproof. There will be water inundation in various places because the city is expanding. There may be imperfections or there may be new areas where water might stagnate,” he warned.

“But.. earlier, if the water inundation was for two days, now, in my opinion, it may last for two to four hours or so,” a cautiously optimistic Bedi said.

Watch the full interview here: